Depending on who you asked, the people on the campground from Friday June 16th through Tuesday the 20th were either attending Somaliafest or Shirefest. Other festivals sprung up over the weekend as Shire Dude proclaimed that the rule of Shirefest is that every attendee has to have their own fest. Some people were having fun with this idea, and it really encompasses the decentralized nature of these friendly competitors of the longtime king of Summer camping freedom festivals, Porcfest.
Please note, this article is not intended to be an attack against the people who have run Porcfest over the years. They did their best in a largely thankless role to make the various Porcfests successful. I’m writing this to assess the question of whether centralizing Porcfest harmed the event and introduce the competition, which are not centralized.
Despite generally philosophizing about the benefits of decentralization, some libertarians have embraced centralization in the process of creating the liberty movement’s largest and most successful camping freedom festival. Depending on what needs to be done, centralization can provide some benefits. However, there are costs involved. Some would argue the centralization of Porcfest’s organization led to its decline. Let’s look closer at what happened. First, for those of you newer to the ongoing New Hampshire Freedom Migration, a little history:The first Porcfest was actually called “Escape to New Hampshire” and it happened in 2003 before the Free State Project‘s first 5,000 members had yet to hold their historic vote later that same year where New Hampshire was chosen as the destination for the world’s most successful libertarian migratory project. New Hampshire won the vote overwhelmingly and later the Free State Project took over running the festival as “Porcfest“, or the Porcupine Freedom Festival.
Originally a weekend event, Porcfest eventually expanded to a whole seven days, Sunday through Sunday and became the most talked-about and well-attended freedom camping festival in the liberty movement. At its peak it attracted as many as 1700 attendees from around the globe.
There’s no doubt Porcfest has been an incredible success over its fourteen years, but did that happen because of the organization behind the event or in spite of it? Or both?
Speaking with longtime Porcfest attendees reveals what you might expect – everyone has an opinion. Certainly the Porcfest organizers can never satisfy everyone – that’s understandable. However organizations, as they get larger and more political, tend to make decisions that are bewilderingly bad and for which they deserve critique. For instance, earlier this decade an epic food operation was being run very successfully at the Rogers Campground pavilion by a dedicated crew of Porcfest attendees who worked from sunup to late nights serving hungry festival attendees along with the campground’s regular Summer renters.After a couple of years of this smashing success, the Porcfest organizers told the pavilion food crew that they’d need to provide free food to Porcfest staff, and only serve food to people wearing the Porcfest wristbands. That would mean they couldn’t serve the park regulars, who were good customers too. They refused the festival’s demands then made that their last year serving and ultimately attending Porcfest. The Pavillion has never been used for food service in any Porcfest since. That same year the organizers also tried to dramatically raise the sponsorship rates for longtime festival sponsors, in what was an apparent attempt to drive them out and make room for big new-money bitcoin sponsors who would be easier to get to pay more.
Porcfest was getting expensive. They were paying who knows how much money for not only the campground facilities but also all the fancy big-named speakers they were having attend the event. Was turning off longtime sponsors and vendors the right way to pay for those costs? I say no.
The event became more controlling around 2013, its tenth iteration. More restrictive vendor policies came into play. Gone were the days when vendors, both food and otherwise, would self-organize and setup wherever they liked. At one point they even charged an extra fee to new vendors, which drove at least one that I know of away. This year, vendors reported only getting one comped event ticket for their vendor fees, despite having received two in previous years.
Most of this ugly behind-the-scenes stuff was kept there, generally, for the sake of having a good event, especially for newbies. However, word gets around, and the ever-increasing rules and micromanagement has worn away at multiple vendors who have dropped out over the years.However, the increased control mentality eventually spilled into public view. While in its original years, anyone could come and stay at Rogers whether they were a Porcfest attendee or not, that is no longer the case. In recent years, security volunteers have guarded the entrance to the campground, checking people for wristbands. Attendees and organizers I spoke with say Porcfest security lightened up on the wristband checks this year, thankfully. The worst year was a few years back when they were actually searching cars after Chris Cantwell successfully trolled them into thinking he was going to be speaking on someone’s campsite! I saw one of the vehicle searches happen.
As you can imagine, restrictive policies like this cause no shortage of controversy and discussion in the freedom community. Sure, it’s a private event, and they get to set the rules, but should there really be strictures like that behind a “Freedom Festival”?
Those who say more freedom is the answer decided to launch festivals to provide friendly, decentralized competition to Porcfest this year. First announced was Somaliafest, the organizers of which are unknown. Someone or some group picked a name and made a website. Some people promoted it, and a few dozen people showed up this year, camped out with other libertarians and had a good time. Since Porcfest this year cut the length of their event from Sun-Sun to Wed-Sun, the Somaliafesters chose the five days prior to Wed the 20th to hold their event. Despite Porcfest cutting the length of their event nearly in half, they kept the ticket prices the same. In contrast, Somaliafest had no fee to attend, no registration, or any management whatsoever.Of course, Somaliafest also didn’t have the fancy big-name speakers or tents that Porcfest did. As a result, those attending Somaliafest were the type of attendees who never came to Porcfest to see speakers. For us, these festivals are about the people who attend, especially those first-time visitors we’re trying to attract to migrate to New Hampshire. If one wanted to have speakers at a decentralized festival, one would have to set up their own stage, mic, and amplifier and promote it.
On day one of Somaliafest 2017, there was already a peaceful schism into a new decentralized festival, Shirefest. The argument from Mark Edge of Free Talk Live is that Shirefest is a better name and less confusing and inside-jokey than Somaliafest. (Somaliafest is likely a reference to when government advocates will tell libertarians they should go live in Somalia, wrongfully thinking there is no government there, when in fact the UN has been trying to force one onto the people there since the nineties.)
The attendees decided for themselves which festivals to attend, many attending both and some even creating their own fest names, like Paxtonfest or Jazzyfest. We had campfires, parties, live and recorded podcasts, and the excellent rave thrown by Will Coley. For a first year, it was great! I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out next year. As soon as the news of the selected dates is available, I’ll post them here to the Free Keene blog.If you’ve never been to Porcfest, you should go if you can afford it. People still had a good time this year, as always, despite the background organizational missteps the organizers have made over the years. However, I’m excited to see how the new, decentralized, Shirefest fares in 2017.
This year’s Shirefest/Somaliafest had the feel that older Porcfests did – libertarians coming to Rogers Campground and doing what they felt drawn to do, without asking permission.
Between now and then, while Shirefest does not yet have a website, it does have a dedicated subforum on the Shire Forum, where previous and future attendees can connect online and discuss.
In other Summer festival news, last year’s Hempfest also took place at Rogers Campground and it was a blast! The event featured wall-to-wall live musical performances and great food over a weekend at the end of August. What a great way to celebrate the end of summer! This year, Hempfest has rebranded as the “NH Cannabis Freedom Festival”, a much better name. It’s still happening at Rogers Campground this August 25th-27th! Tickets are available now and they just announced that they are not only accepting bitcoin for ticketing but are also offering discounts as deep as 25% off for anyone paying with bitcoin! Awesome! My radio show, Free Talk Live will be broadcasting again from this year’s event and the Libertarian Party of NH will be conducting an outreach booth. Hope to see you there!
One of the Porcfest vending organizers has responded with a detailed post of what are her corrections and additions to the article.